What did you do this summer? This teenager is restoring a 1960 Buick

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We all need help from our friends, and Conner Kujak was not alone in his restoration project. His friend Andrew McGinnis and Andrew’s dad got involved as well, offering assistance with such things as welding panels that needed repair or replacement | Photos by Jim Volgarino and from Conner Kujak collection
Conner Kujak and Jean Kern, whose mother had owned the car

It’s not hard to share the excitement when you talk with Conner Kujak about the restoration of his 1960 Buick Invicta Custom. He describes the history of the car, it’s rarity, and the ‘60s technology that was incorporated into the vehicles of that era. For any true car enthusiast, the Buick provides for some great conversation.

But while it’s not unusual for most gearheads to talk at length about their favorite rides, one thing stands out with Kujak that is hard to escape. He’s 19 years old. A “babe in arms” by gearhead standards. Someone who must have been born in the wrong era, right?

Kujak, who lives in Chaska, Minnesota, didn’t grow up on a steady diet of car “stuff.” He admits he may have been influenced by his collection of Hot Wheels when he was 4 or 5, but generally he didn’t have the family or peer pressure to get involved. 

The 1960 Buick Invicta Custom as it sat for years behind a house

“My dad isn’t a car guy,” he explains, “and I think I just got interested in the classic cars from those Hot Wheels. I wanted to know what they really looked like.”

So the saga began for a young Kujak who was amazed that cars of the ‘50s and ‘60s looked so different from year to year. By age 12 he was recognizing specific makes and models. By 15 he said he was also able to identify cars from the 1940s to the ‘70s and that fascination grew to include the cultural themes of those eras.

Kujak was realistic in his growing interest.

“I knew restoring any vehicle was probably out of my budget, so I just tried to learn as much as I could and talk with car owners to get their stories.” 

First order of business was removing the body from the frame, and friends lent a hand, a few hands

But then he saw the car across the street from his great grandmother’s house in Plankinton, South Dakota.

“We live about five hours from Plankinton, which is about 700 people,” he explains. “When I was about 15 I was there one day and saw a car sitting behind the house across the street and I thought I would check it out.”

He went to the door to inquire about the car, which turned out to be a 1960 Buick Invicta Custom, one of only 700 hardtops built, and exactly the type of vehicle that was filling his youthful imagination.

The owner of the house, Jean Kern, explained the car had been his mother’s and  belonged to his son, Dan. Kujak was determined to know as much as he could about the car and eventually convinced Dan that he should sell it to the budding enthusiast. 

“I told him I would make certain to give him a ride when I got the car finished. That got him to agree to sell it.”

A small upholstery shop was willing to take on the task of replicating the unusual interior design of the Invicta Custom. The front buckets were completed and the remainder of the interior will be completed after the paint is applied to the exterior

Kujak then had to convince his father, the “not such a car guy,” to let him trailer the hulk home, place it in the family garage and proceed to completely disassemble it to begin its restoration.

At the time, Kujak was in the final years of high school. He and close friend Andrew McGinnis decided to restore the Buick as a capstone project required for graduation. The school committee charged with approving such projects was less enthused, but finally approved, though it also required a lot of paperwork.

“The car was in pretty sad shape including everything in the interior,” Kujak explains. “The dashboard has an instrument panel that Buick called the Mirromagic that used a mirror to reflect the actual speedometer and various gauge lights. It could be adjusted to the driver’s vision and was just one of the really cool things this car had in its design.”

The 1960 Buick Invicta Custom used the Wildcat 445 Nailhead V8 for power, producing 265 horsepower and 445 lbs. ft of torque, thus the 445 designation

“We had to create a 32-page report about how we created the lenses including the color of the material, it’s light sensitivity and fade resistance.” 

Kujak put together a computer file needed to 3D print the lenses and produced not only the lenses but the rare pushbuttons on the car’s radio. 

“I figured while I was working on the lenses and had access to the equipment, it would be good to get those replaced as well.”

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The project was completed (with an “A” grade) and Kujak decided he would use the car for one more requirement… his senior project. 

“I’ve researched everything about the car,” he explains, “so I decided to create another project that documents the design and production of the 1960 Buick Invicta Custom.” 

The final report (some 35 pages in length) shows everything you could ever want to know about this Buick, but also reflects Kujak’s ambition to bring the car back to life.

Conner admits he’s had to learn a lot of new skills (and patience) when refinishing parts of the Buick, both large and small

“It was in pretty sad shape, having sat behind Jean’s house for over 20 years and Jean thought it had also sat on a farm for an additional 15-20 years after his mother quit driving it.” 

Once home, the major work began to separate the chassis, drivetrain and body sheet metal. The frame, sans engine and transmission, was sent off to be media blasted and cleaned while the engine and transmission headed another direction for rebuilding. 

“The body, overall, is pretty solid,” Kujak says. “We had to track down new front floor pans and Andrew has been handling the welding chores along with his dad, Scott, who is providing advice and help as needed.”

For anyone who has begun a car restoration, it seems like these projects take on a life of their own. Kujak graduated high school in 2017 and is studying biology (with possible pre-med or pre-dentistry in the future) at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. But he takes whatever time he can away from studies, including this summer, to toil on the Buick.

Kujak cleans small parts with a counter top blaster and cutting away metal to ready an area for repairs

The body is nearing completion of its preparation for paint following media blasting and some repair. He says more sanding is needed to get it to a final “ready to paint” condition and he has someone lined up to apply a deep blue color, hopefully close to what the car had when it left the factory.

The chassis has been painted and the newly rebuilt engine and transmission are in place, but nothing more has been done with such things as wiring, cooling system, fuel, brakes, etc. 

“I’ve refinished the rear end and it will be installed so we can move the car once the body is placed back on the frame.”

The Buick’s glass has been replaced except for the expansive back glass which Kujak says is in good shape. 

“I wanted to keep at least some of the original glass, if possible.” 

But there is plenty of detailed work yet to be completed. Kujak has polished the stainless trim, had the front bucket seats re-covered in the original blue and white material and design, and has cleaned and refurbished what is turning out to be hundreds of small pieces needed to complete the drivetrain, the interior and the sheet metal.

“It’s a long process,” he says, “but it will be worth it when I finally get it running and can give Dan (the former owner) a ride and begin sharing it with others at car shows.”

And for those old timers wondering about the future of the car hobby, they can look to Kujak for where things are headed. 

“I find the ‘50s and ‘60s eras just fascinating,” he says. “What better way to step back in time than like this.”

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At age 12, Jim Volgarino peeked under the hood of his grandfather’s 1957 Oldsmobile and saw a Rocket 88 for the first time. He was hooked. Following stints in the Air Force, the newspaper business, the printing business, and the teaching business he’s finally settled into his first love… automotive writing. He’s covered everything from Bonneville Speed Week to the Lambrecht Chevrolet auction in Pierce, Nebraska, from his home in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He’s owned pretty much anything and everything with a motor and wheels. Currently, he’s restoring a 1964 Chevrolet Impala SS 409.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Yo- I think this kid is cooler than Steve McQueen- why hasn’t Buick stepped up with some support? This is exactly the type of person that needs major props and encouragement to keep the hobby alive: vision, planning skills, patience, willingness to learn, and a really good eye for cars. Yeah, he could’ve done yet another ’60 Chevy, or Tri-Five, or a Galaxie, but an Invicta!? How many of those do ya see rollin’ under power? I can think of one since I moved to ND in 1998, and I saw a similar LeSabre in the Cities a couple years ago, but young dude is gonna be wheeling a pretty uncommon build when it’s done. After med or dental school, I wanna see what he does next! -R
    Fargo

    • Thanks Ryan! Just reading that gave me more motivation to finish the project. You’re definitely right about the car being rare and not seeing them often, if not for 20 years! Can’t wait to finish it.

  2. Wow.… as another commentator has stated… our country needs more young people like Conner! He reminds me of the young man from Parkland…. mature beyond their years with the ability to focus on their dreams.

    • Really admire Kujak’s dedication and tenacity in this restoration project. He and his family should be very proud of all his diligence. In today’s society, we need more young people like Kursk who show appreciation and admiration the cars of yester year and want to be a part of bringing them back to there glory. Wishing you all the best in your current restoration as well as continued success in all your furture endeavors.

  3. I agree with everyone else. Kudos to Connor, and I also think it would be cool if GM gave him some kind of support, shout-out or something for being one of the new generation of good, old-school car heads. We definitely need youngsters to be excited to keep the hobby and passion for cars in general going one way or the other so when they start shaping the future of the car industry we it won’t get taken over by self-driving, emotionless, blob-shaped, silent cocoons.

  4. I give this young man a lot of credit, and my hats off to him! No restoration this involved is ever cheap or easy, even on a car for which there is a lot of aftermarket support. This young man is committed and dedicated to completing a frame-off restoration on a very unusual car for which few aftermarket parts exist. And he’s committed to keeping the car as original as possible in the process. The fact that he has been at this since he was 15 and is in college now; shows his level of perseverance and dedication. While a 4 or 5-year restoration may be common for a seasoned professional who’s in his 40’s or 50’s, this is not easy for a modern teenager who is accustomed to the "instant gratification" factor of today’s American culture. His parents also deserve some recognition too for supporting him and being so patient with the seemingly "slow" progress. It would be all too easy for them to say, "We want our garage back, get rid of this car!" I’ve heard that ultimatum on more than one occasion when I was younger.

  5. Go Connor go, this makes me feel so good. COME ON GM stand up and help what great PR for the Buick brand. New 2019 Buick Invicta Grand Sport.

  6. In agreement with everything everyone has stated so far, but especially in regards to keeping the love of restoring old cars alive. Today’s young people are into devices, not cars and it’s good to see the enthusiasm and perserverance displayed by this young man. Stay with it Connor as the best part, actually cruising in this rare piece of American automotive history, it yet to come!

  7. It’s great to see this young mans enthusiasm for the hobby and to see the support he is getting keep up the good work

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